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Bridge to close next week

HOOD CANAL BRIDGE — It’s only been two years since construction began to repair the floating bridge that connects Kitsap and Jefferson counties. While Washington State Department of Transportation officials said they have been trying their best to keep the impacts to drivers to a minimum, construction is, well, construction and with it comes traffic delays and in some cases, closures.

WSDOT is gearing up for its first set of this month’s two anticipated closures of the Hood Canal Bridge, which will take place next week from 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11 to 4 a.m. Monday, Aug. 15. The second closure will be from 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21 to 4 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 25.

During the closures, crews will be replacing approaches on both ends of the bridge. By the end of the project, which is expected to be finished in 2009, there will be a wider eastern floating section, plus new approach sections and transition trusses on both the east and west ends. In addition, the western half will be widened to allow for continuous eight-foot shoulders across the entire length of the bridge, matching the new east half.

Besides crews laboring day in and day out to build these new roads and make upgrades to the bridge in this first phase, WSDOT officials have been working with the public in an attempt to keep them as informed as possible and lessen the impact to drivers. But it hasn’t been without its hitches.

Roll out the old,

roll in the new

While it is obvious to drivers there is major construction going on with the narrower-than-usual driving lanes and the presence of the familiar bright orange vests, what motorists are likely unaware of it the work that is being done just below their line of sight.

Since early spring, crews from the Poulsbo-based general contractor Kiewit General have been building new road approaches on large scaffolding systems just north of the bridge. During the first closure next week, crews will remove the old roadway on the west end first and roll in the new road.

And roll they will, literally.

There are four 300-ton rollers, only about 30-inches by four-feet in size, that will be used to remove the old road from its current position. These rollers will slowly move the old road onto steel supports that have been constructed on the south side of the bridge. The new 190-foot long roadway will then be moved into place and secured.

The west end will be completed first to allow crews to resolve any problems before using the same system, this time with eight 500-ton rollers and four 300-ton rollers, to replace the east end with a 640-foot span during the second closure.

In the end, the new roads will be 40-feet wide. The existing roads are only 26-feet wide.

The old sections will be demolished about a week after they are moved onto the steel supports, said WSDOT Hood Canal Bridge site manager Ray Arnold.

While the construction of the roads took place this spring, crews have spent the past two years preparing the site for the transition, said WSDOT communications manager for the Olympic region Lloyd Brown.

After the new road sections are in place, construction at the bridge site will be complete — for now.

“(This is) as far as we can go without pontoons and anchors,” Arnold explained.

The original graving site for the construction of the pontoons had been in Port Angeles, until crews unearthed remains of an ancient Native American village in August 2003. The state was forced to pull out of the site last December.

WSDOT officials hope to make an announcement soon of a new graving site. The state is favoring the Port of Tacoma because it would be the easiest place to construct the pontoons and float them north to the bridge for installation, Brown said. That work is expected to take place in 2009.

Communicating with the public

Most residents seem to be pleased with how the state has communicated about potential traffic impacts, Brown said. The only major impact was on June 9, when traffic was backed up on both sides of the bridge until late into the night due to bridge work and the State Route 3 paving project. After that, officials took a closer look at how to coordinate projects better.

“I think we’ve done pretty good job on the whole,” Brown said.

The state’s outreach efforts have included sending 123,000 direct mail postcards to area residents about the project and posting signs on the major routes that are affected by bridge traffic, including at the ferry docks.

“We know 60 percent of the people who drive across this bridge have ridden a ferry in the past 30 days,” Brown said in late July. “We can only do so much in terms of communication but we are putting (forth) a lot of effort.”

His biggest concern is the night of the first closure, when people will try to make it across the bridge at 8 p.m. Aug. 11 and discover it’s too late.

A half-hour before the closure, there will be crews and signs on the major routes informing the public that the bridge is closed. Drivers on the 5 p.m. ferries on the Kingston/Edmonds and Seattle/Bainbridge routes will be told they will not be able to cross the bridge that evening.

“Inevitably, there will be that last guy who wants to try and make it but won’t,” Brown said, shaking his head.

So the alternative to getting between the two counties? Driving around. Arnold said it takes about 60 to 90 minutes to drive down to Belfair and pick up 101 north and head back toward Jefferson County.

The state has also worked with the major employers in Jefferson and Kitsap counties about creating alternative routes for employees, as well as with the visitor and convention buearu centers on how to redirect summer vacation traffic.

“We’ve coordinated it so it won’t greatly impact their tourism economy,” Brown said.

More information about the bridge project and closures can be found at www.hoodcanalbridge.com.

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